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The political economy of Jean-Baptiste Say's republicanism

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Orthodoxy maintains that Jean-Baptiste Say was a liberal political economist and the French disciple of Adam Smith. This article seeks to question such an interpretation through an examination of Say's early writings, and especially the first edition of his famous Traite d'economie politique (Paris, 1803). It is shown that Say was a passionate republican in the 1790s, but a republican of a particular kind. Through the influence of the radical Genevan exile Etienne Claviere, Say became convinced that only a republican constitution would protect the gains of the Revolution. Furthermore, the foundation of a successful republic lay in the pursuit of specific virtuous manners, and in particular independence, equality, frugality and industriousness. Although in 1803 Say turned against supporters of republican constitutions he continued to demand the reformation of manners. His ultimate vision was a science of political economy which would foster republican manners, by instructing both legislators and the general populace.

Keywords: Claviere; French Revolution; J-B Say; Roederer; Sieyes; commerce; industry; liberalism; manners; political economy; republicanism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Social Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, BN1 9QU.

Publication date: 1998-03-01

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